The Jefferson County Board of Education voted Tuesday to begin the 2020-2021 school year with nine weeks of online education only and no option for traditional classroom learning.
The recommendation came from Superintendent Walter Gonsoulin after weeks of town hall meetings with parents, faculty, staff and other stakeholders, as well as an online survey in which Gonsoulin said 80% of JefCoEd families responded. In that survey, 56% were in favor of online learning and 44% favored traditional face-to-face classroom learning.
The board approved the recommendation by a 4-1 vote in Tuesday’s online meeting. Board President Ronnie Dixon cast the lone vote against.
“We are not exhibiting the leadership we need given our system’s size,” Dixon said in a discussion before the vote. “Other systems are being more resourceful in bringing kids to school. Everyone has asked for options. I don’t understand why options for remote learning aren’t available.
“I think we are taking for granted the unintended consequences by saying for nine weeks that we are going to take it easy and stay home,” Dixon added.
In a written statement issued by the system just after the meeting, Gonsoulin said, “We have outlined this possibility since we started talking about this coming school year. However, I know hearing the news is still unsettling. Some of you might even be mad at me right now. I know you have to figure out things like child care and that this decision might add to your financial strain when times are already tough. I am truly sorry for that burden. However, I cannot justify sending children or employees back to school right now. It would put them in harm’s way. The number of COVID-19 cases in our area is simply too high.”
The plan also includes a provision to move the starting date of the school year a week later to Sept. 1, to give school workers more time to complete preparations for the new year and to complete construction projects at three middle schools. The delay will not force moving the ending date of the school year, Gonsoulin said, as the Alabama State Department of Education has reduced the required number of teaching days from 175 to 170.